After the death of my husband, Francis, I took solace in my gardens and God’s healing earth and plants. I had been to Assisi, Italy, to walk in the steps of Sts. Francis and Clare in 2013 which had always been a dream of mine being I am a Franciscan associate. I saw a wonderful full-sized sitting statue of St. Francis along the path to San Damiano and took a picture of it.
As I worked in my woodland garden one spring, the idea came to me of having a similar statute of St. Francis in a field of primrose flowers in my garden every spring — a place people could come to enjoy the special beauty I had been working to create over the years with God’s help and the memory of how much my husband enjoyed working and helping me in my garden.
I contacted a sculptor friend, Ann Meyer Farrell, to see if she would make one for me similar to the one I’d seen in Assisi but out of clay from St. John’s University pottery studio. My husband had shown the clay’s location to the master potter years ago, and the kind landowner then donated all the clay to St. John’s pottery program in exchange for a set of special clay dinnerware made by the master potter.
The master potter agreed to let the statue be formed in the studio and then fired in St. John’s Johanna wood-fired kiln that fall. The St. Francis sculpture is so amazing that I want more people to enjoy it as much as I do along with the beautiful flowers in the surrounding garden.
In the spring, my woodland garden is a tapestry of flowering native plants such as trillium, ferns, anemones, hepaticas both native and European, many violets and, especially, the primroses. Many primroses are from Asia and the Himalayas, with Barnhaven seed strain primroses in many deep bright velvety colors that are a joy to behold at a time of year when other flowering perennials are just showing green.
The Barnhaven primroses were developed by Florence Bellis in Oregon during the Depression. She was a concert pianist, but there was no work then for her talent so she ordered primrose seed from England and, with those gifted fingers, hybridized primroses to get the many colors we now have. The Barnhaven business was sold to a nursery in England and then to a nursery in France where I order my seed.
There are many plants in my garden from different parts of the world, but the ones I treasure most are plants from dear friends whose plants return each spring to greet me with the love in which they were given. A garden created in someone’s memory with special plants that they loved will keep the loved one’s memory alive while you care for it each year and thereafter.
I sell some of the Barnhaven primroses each year to cover seed expenses and a new plant or two for the garden. But with planting help in the past and currently from friends Mary Lou and Rosie, we continue to fill the garden with primroses and friends!
I leave you with a quote from Lincoln Foster, “These may be simple pleasures, but there is a quiet serenity nurtured in the soul when you stand in the midst of the garden among plants that through your love and care have come to grace your world.”
Karen Schellinger is a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Collegeville. She has been a Franciscan associate for 15 years and is currently in formation with the St. Cloud Fraternity for the Secular Franciscan Order. She has gardened for 40 years and is a retired master gardener. She and her husband, Francis, moved to the Avon hills 45 years ago where they worked side by side raising their children while doing everything they most loved.